Washougal councilman changes opposition to potential planning commission appointee

Council decision is expected during Monday meeting

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Washougal City Councilman Jon Russell has announced a change of heart regarding the potential appointment of Mike Briggs to the Planning Commission.

Russell mentioned by email late Monday night he plans to drop his opposition and vote to confirm Briggs at the council meeting next week.

“As a person of faith, it is important for me to practice what I preach and bless those who curse me,” Russell said. “I believe Mike has written untrue personal attacks in the paper about me and other council members. I also disagree with most of his politically progressive views on development.

“I felt like we needed an extra couple of weeks to get it all out in the air,” he added. “That is why I tabled the nomination. Now, if confirmed, he will have to work alongside some people on the Planning Commission that don’t share his views on development. I believe Mike deserves that opportunity.”

During the City Council workshop earlier last night, the debate continued regarding what could or could not be considered personal attacks.

After some discussion about the wording of letters to the editor in several newspapers and in submissions to blogs, Russell asked Briggs how he feels about residential development.

“First, you need business and the jobs, and then the residential development would follow,” Briggs replied.

As a former resident of Hillsboro, Ore., he said it was a small town in the 1950s with issues similar to Washougal.

Briggs said Hillsboro is now a “large, sprawling mess.”

Russell described it as “a booming city.”

That difference in opinion was referred to again after the 3 1/2 hour workshop ended, when Russell said, “You can’t go onto the planning commission with a preconceived bias against development.

“Hillsboro is on the move,” he added.

Earlier in the workshop, Russell said planning commissioners “should not use their position to advance a pro-development or anti-development view, but rather collect the facts and come to a conclusion with minimal prejudice.”

Briggs attended the workshop, accompanied by his wife, attorney Janet Briggs. While talking about cases of slander and libel, she said statements of truth or opinion are protected.

Several other local residents also talked about the potential appointment.

Don Bohlin spoke in favor of having a “team builder” serve on the Planning Commission.

“I believe in freedom of speech, but you are still responsible for what you say,” he said.

Larry Keister said it is important to have an “open exchange of ideas.”

“Accept some criticism, and keep an open mind,” he added.

Russell made a motion on Nov. 15 that the appointment of Briggs be tabled. At that time, Russell said Briggs had made “disparaging remarks” toward the mayor, City Council and developers in local blogs and media.

Councilman Rod Morris said during the workshop he was concerned Russell’s opposition to Briggs’ appointment was a “personal vendetta.”

“It’s not,” Russell replied.

Councilman Dave Shoemaker referred to an Aug. 3 letter to the editor in the Post-Record, in which Briggs said Shoemaker likes to “become emotionally charged, likes to attack anything with the word ‘stimulus’ attached to it and likes to verbally attack the State of Washington on many of its efforts to assist Washougal.”

Shoemaker described several of Briggs’ written comments as “disparaging.”

Paul Greenlee reminded those in attendance at the workshop that the Planning Commission makes recommendations, not final decisions, to City Council.

“Commissioners are committed and well-informed with strongly held points of view,” he said. “It is not a team, but decorum is needed.”

Councilwoman Jennifer McDaniel recalled Briggs talking to City Council from a podium during public comments.

“He cut us down and lost his temper several times,” she said.

McDaniel received assurances from Briggs that he would be committed to a term that expires in 2015, and he would be ready to dive into information and realize it would be a learning process.

“He’s trying to put his money where his mouth is and step up,” she said.

Greenlee served on the panel that interviewed Briggs and Charlie Dawson. The panel, which unanimously recommended Briggs, also included Planning Commissioner Larry White and Planning Manager Mitch Kneipp.

The Planning Commission vacancy was created when Craig Cancilla resigned, due to work commitments.

The City Council is expected to discuss Briggs’ potential appointment during its next regular meeting Monday, at 7 p.m., in the council chambers at City Hall, 1701 “C” St. For more information, call 835-8501.